South Island

Trip Start Feb 19, 2006
1
8
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Trip End Aug 16, 2006


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Friday, May 12, 2006

Hey Everyone!!
First off, just gotta apologise for the time since my last update. I guess I could give loads of reasons for not doing one but in the end it just comes down to laziness!!
We are currently in Christchurch in the South Island of New Zealand, so I've got a bit of a long update to write starting at Cuzco Peru, so here goes...
After arriving in Cuzco and checking out of the afformentioned nasty hostel, we checked into a much nicer chilled out hostel run by an ageing south african hippy. We found Peru like a more touristy version of bolivia and consequently more expensive, the food however benefitted from better standards of hygiene although Nick still managed to get a stomach bug from some dodgy salad in an Irish bar. The Inca trail was unfortunately not an option as there was a 2 month waiting list and to be honest we'd done quite enough exercise kayaking across titicaca and climbing up hills. We ended up getting the train up to machu picchu which cost around 80 pounds including entrance to the ruins, but it was well worth it as the photos show. The rest of the time in Cuzco was a blur of parties as the town is crammed with backpackers and you are constantly getting handed flyers for bars, all of which entitle you to a free (very strong) drink. After a few days our bodies began to wither from excesses of one kind or the other and we decided it was time to start heading down towards Argentina as we only had just under 3 weeks left in South America.
The next two days were taken up by painful bus journeys and waits in stations as we rapidly cut back down through Puno, Copacabana, La Paz and finished at Uyuni just south west of central Bolivia.
Uyuni is really a gateway town to the salt flats and lagoons in the south of the country and thats about it, the streets are wide and deserted and the air is so dry my skin immediately suffered from an unprecedented attack of the flakes. We booked onto a 3 day tour of the Salt flats, a snip at 65 US dollars (oh the joys of being back in an insanely cheap coutry!!). There's not much I can say about the tour (it was me, Nick and 4 girls - we were gutted!!)the photos speak for themselves, suffice to say I have never seen such stunning and diverse scenery in my life.
Following the tour, another days painful travelling was endured, initially dulled by a bottle of scotch (Sunday crew, I hope you're proud!), then rapidly made all the worse by a raging hangover.
We passed the border into Argentina and were immediately struck by the cosmopolitan look and feel the cities had even though we were only 50 miles aways from the simplistic way of life in Bolivia. Our first stop was Salta in the North which had a distinctly european feel. It was here that we sampled our first argentinian steak at a restaurant called Old Jacks (reason enough to pay Salta a visit!). Anyone who knows me even remotely will know my love of meat, especially steak. The steaks in Salta were unspeakably good, shown by the silence that descended over the table once the food arrived and remained until all plates were clean (the two girls we were travelling with at this point often couldn't finish theirs so Nick and I were forced to help them with the leftovers). Just one steak purchased for around 3 pounds was around the size of 3 good steaks in englands and they were always char-cooked to perfection on a massive barbeque-like grill found in every Parilla (steak house). Anyway, enough about food as I can imagine Byron will be rolling his eyes at this point!
After a few days relaxing in Salta we made the decision to change our original plan from spending a week or so in Mendoza, to heading down to Buenos Aires on the East of Argentina. I should point out at this juncture that in literally every town we stopped at in South America, we were advised by travellers to go to Buenos Aires, and I'm glad to say it was one of the best decisions we have made so far.
I'm not really sure where to start, the town was everything we could have wanted. The hostel we stayed in was in the trendy Palermo district, about 2 miles away from the city centre. On the first night we immediately established a group of friends who we pretty much hung around with for the whole week, but often bigger groups of us would all go out clubbing together. The city could easily be somewhere in europe and you'd never guessed it was a third world country apart from everything being ridiculously cheap (even Stella, which I found, to my delight was sold in just about every bar).
Time in Buenos aires (if you are a traveller) does not move in the same way as in other cities. For a start it is common to only see the daylight before you have gone to bed and wake up when it is already dark. Our evening meal (which was sometimes the only thing we ate all day due to the amount of food consumed) was often taken at 11pm and we would normally get to a bar at around 1am. Clubs, unlike England only opened at 2am and didn't really fill out until bar kicking out time at 4. We would usually get back to the hostel around 8-9 in the morning and maybe go for breakfast in a cafe before rolling staggering to bed at about 10-11. I won't pretend that this lifestyle was a healthy one, and after a week both Nick and I were feeling distinctly withered. That said, out of all the places I have been so far, Buenos Aires is the one I have the strongest desire to return to and will certainly be considering it for my next holiday, although I might have to take some spanish lessons before I go!
With only a few days left before our flight from Santiago, we headed over to Mendoza and were glad to find a quiet, chilled out town and a hostel with a swimming pool (albeit a ridiculously cold one!) We still managed a messy last night in Argentina with a load of gap year public school kids who had come from a raleigh international scheme doing volunteer work in the South of the country, (see photos of tequila shots!!)
After missing our first bus to Santiago due partly to a hangover induced lack of urgency and no bloody taxis (I'm not bitter!), we hopped over the border to Chile and caught a taxi to the airport where we spent a lovely night on a metal bench next to our check in gate. The flight was uneventful with a poor selection of films although it was pretty much luxury after some of the bus journeys we had endured in South America.
Arriving in Auckland was a kind of reverse culture shock, after months of being in strange and mysterious countries, it seemed disconcertingly English and so very expensive (although still slightly cheaper than back home). We both made an almost immediate decision to get out of the city and see more of New Zealand. Various options were considered and in the end we opted to do a 10 day road trip in an MPV/Camper van equipped with cooker, chiller and DVD sytem (sounds better than it actually was!!). We spent a few days driving down the west side of the north island admiring the stunning scenery, staying in laybies and fields and desperately trying to stick to the budget. We then spent a couple of days in Wanganui in the South West staying with a friend of Nick's from America who is on exchange here, and were glad to have the use of a shower as both of us were in dire need of a wash. We kept heading South till we reached Wellington at the bottom of the North island and caught the ferry over to the South Island. We slowly moved down to Christchurch where we had to drop off the van, and managed to find a cheap replacement right wing mirror, which I had managed to smash in Wanganui, although the electrics didn't work, the rental company didn't notice and we got away without being charged an extortionate excess!
So that about wraps it up for the travels so far. We are at a difficult point at the moment New Zealand has amazing scenery but the nightlife isn't up to much, and I think it is just a little too much like England. The language barrier in South America whilst sometimes annoying was often a good challenge and it all seems a bit easy here. We're thinking about going down to Queenstown, which is sposed to be party capital, but the travelling costs may not be worth it so it could be a case of getting a cheap flight up to Auckland and flying out to Fiji a few days early. Anyhow, we are still both having a great time and not missing South America too much.
Guess it should be getting a bit warmer at home now, its winter here in NZ and not particularly warm but the temperature in Fiji is around 30 at the mo which should be perfect.
Good luck to everyone who has exams coming up in the next few weeks, and I'll try and make an effort to not leave it so long before the next update.

Take it easy all

James
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